LGBTQ Legal Groups Sue Arizona Over 'Anti-LGBTQ' Curriculum Laws

By Mariana Dale
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 6:23pm
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2019 - 12:12pm

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LBGTQ legal rights groups are suing Arizona education leaders over laws they say discriminate against LGBTQ students in the state’s public schools.

Sometimes called “no promo homo” or “anti-gay curriculum” laws, they specifically say schools cannot “promote a homosexual lifestyle” in health classes.

“These laws have an effect where they allow and create an environment where intolerance can grow and LGBTQ students feel stigmatized and no student should have to feel that way at school,” said Puneet Cheema, a Lambda Legal attorney working on the case.

What Are Arizona’s LGBTQ Curriculum Laws?

The laws were created by the Arizona Legislature in 1991 and govern how schools can teach students about HIV and AIDS. 

Specifically the laws say instruction cannot promotes a “homosexual life-style,” portray “homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or suggest there are safe ways to have homosexual sex.

Several Arizona school districts have interpreted the laws as controlling all sex education, since that is generally when lessons about HIV and AIDS are discussed.

"The law that's currently on the books really forbids that and keeps those conversations in the closet, if you will,” said Tucson Unified School District School Board Member Kristel Ann Foster in an interview with KJZZ last month

The Tucson district had to drop language that would have made its sex education curriculum more inclusive in 2016 and has since revived an effort to change its policies.

LGBTQ advocacy group GLSEN reports Arizona’s laws are similar to those in at least six other states.

Many of the laws were passed in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic after the U.S attorney general advised HIV/AIDS education start at an early age. 

What The Lawsuit Says

The complaint argues Arizona’s laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it singles out students that are not heterosexual.

“The negative impact is significant, communicating to teachers and students that there is something so undesirable, shameful, or controversial about ‘homosexuality’ that any positive portrayal of non-heterosexual people or relationships must be barred,” said the complaint.

The suit seeks to stop the enforcement of the law.

“No group of students should be treated separately and differently from hetereosexual students,” Lambda Legal attorney Cheema said.

Michael Soto
Daisy Finch/KJZZ
Michael Soto in the KJZZ studio in 2019

Michael Soto is the executive director of Equality Arizona. He grew up in Arizona attending Mesa public schools and says his education did not reflect his experience as a queer transgender man.

“I know that that kind of sex education doesn’t set you up for success as an adult to make the healthiest best choices possible. You have to find that information on your own later.”

Arizona has seen a significant increase in new HIV/AIDS cases in the last several years

“Hetereosexual students are able to access information that will teach them how to stay safe in relation to HIV and homosexual students will not be able to get that information.”

The complaint also cites surveys that find 80 percent of LGBTQ students in Arizona regularly hear homophobic remarks and 71 percent experienced verbal harassment related to their sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs include Equality Arizona, a LGBTQ advocacy group and LGBTQ students.

“I just want to feel safe at school like every other student, but this law makes me feel like an outsider just because I’m gay,” said a student identified as A.A. in a press release from Lambda Legal. “I’ve been bullied because of my sexual orientation, and this law just encourages more of the same by labeling who I am as something to be ashamed of.”

A.A. is enrolled in a health class at his school and has heard that teaches avoid answering questions about safe sex for gay people.

“A.A. is worried that he will not be able to learn medically accurate information in school, including in his health class, that will keep him safe and healthy,” the complaint states

Plaintiff S.C. is a student at a public charter school in Tucson an identifies as queer. They transferred schools after repeated bullying such as being called a “stupid gay kid” and a “faggot” by other students.

S.C. will have to take a health education class to graduate when they reach high school.

“Because they will take curriculum subject to the anti-LGBTQ curriculum law in high school, S.C. will face further stigma and will be denied equal educational opportunities because of the law,” the complaint states.

Who’s Being Sued?

The defendants in the lawsuit are Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and the Arizona Board of Education.

Kathy Hoffman
Daisy Finch/KJZZ
Kathy Hoffman in KJZZ's studio in 2019.

Hoffman earlier this year voiced her support for a bill that would have repealed the law

Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake, blocked that bill from advancing for the fourth year in a row. 

Hoffman said she will not defend the law in court.

Hoffman said in a statement she opposes the law.

She quoted actor and Hamilton playright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“In this day and age, we should all be saying what he has said, which is ‘Love is love is love is love is love'... there’s not one perfect type of relationship. Many of my students come from families that have two moms or have two dads and we can’t one relationship is better than a different type of relationship ” Hoffman said.

A spokesperson for the Arizona Board of Education said the lawsuit is being reviewed.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich typically represents the superintendent of public instruction and the State Board of Education.

“The AG’s office has not seen the lawsuit,” a spokesman for Brnovich told KJZZ. “They anticipate they will have conversations with named parties in the coming days and determine how the named defendants would like to proceed.”

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